Classroom Corner: Constrained Writing

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by Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Tag Words:  Lateral thinking, Writing

Time:  30 + minutes (depending on how many rounds you do)

Age/Level:  Modifiable for different ages and levels, but better at higher levels and ages

Numbers:  Can be done individually, with a partner or in small groups

Skills:  Creative thinking, Writing

Constrained Writing is a fun writing warmer taken from poetry writing that makes students think beyond the structures of a normal sentence.

Objectives:

  • Think quickly and creatively
  • Write sentences that follow various rules yet maintain grammatical and lexical sense

Preparation:

  • Print out the rules of the activity for your own use.
  • Put students into small teams; have them take out a piece of paper and a pen and chose a team name.
  • Put team names on the board with a space below each team name.

Steps:

  1. Explain the activity (3 minutes): Write the name of the activity on the board and ask students if anyone knows what “constrained” means. It’s a fairly uncommon word, so you might have to explain it. I like to use the noun form “constraints” and do a mock arrest on a student.
  2. Model the activity (3 minutes): I usually model this activity by using the first rule which is “You cannot use any Es in your sentence.” The goal of this activity is to write the longest possible, grammatically correct, sensible sentence, so you can give an example of a sentence with no Es on the board.
  3. First Round (3 minutes): The “no E” rule is a good one to start with, so give the students 3 minutes and with their team, have them write the longest possible sentence they can without Es. Be strict on time.
  4. Check the Sentences (5-7 minutes): When time is up, pens go down and have the teams read their sentences out loud while the teacher writes them on the board under their team name. (Alternately, with a multi-media set up and google docs, this can all be done automatically). Once the sentences are up, give the class 2 minutes to review the sentences and try to find any grammar mistakes. Go through each team’s sentence and check it for grammar, if it makes sense, and if it follows the rules. The team with the longest, correct sentence gets 1 point and the team with the most points at the end is the winner.
  5. Following Rounds (20 minutes +): There are many different rules you could institute for following rounds, but here are my personal favorites. You may need to model some of these to make the rules clear:
  • Lipogram: A common letter (such as E) is banned.
  • Reverse-Lipogram: Each word in a sentence must include a specific letter.
  • Alliteration: Every word in the sentence must begin with the same letter.
  • Anagrams: Teams choose 1 word and must make a sentence out of the letters.
  • Chaterism: Each word must have more letters than the last word Ex. “I am sad today.”
  • Single Syllables: Each word must only have 1 syllable

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer and EAP instructor on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.

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This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2017, Summer). Constrained Writing. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Summer-2017.pdf

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